Individual or Congregational?

Galatians 6:10 is frequently referred to as authority for the local church to engage in general benevolence, i.e., relieve any, saint or sinner, who has need. But a close examination of the passage shows that it is neither authorizing congregational action nor speaking of benevolence. As we look at this verse ask yourself two questions about each of the first ten verses: (1) is this individual or congregational? and (2) is this speaking of physical or spiritual things?

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (verses 1-3). There is neither a congregation nor benevolence in these verses. Rather, the individual Christian is to help his brother who has sinned. The help given is not physical; rather, it is helping one rise above the fault in which he has been overtaken.

“Let him who is taught in the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (verse 6). There is nothing about congregational action or benevolence here. Nor is this verse teaching that the taught ought to monetarily support the teacher. Rather, Paul is teaching that the taught should jointly participate in all the truth taught by the teacher. So instead of fellowship of money from the taught to the teacher, it is fellowship of the taught and the teacher in the practice of the things taught. Paul was not trying to teach the Galatians a lesson on supporting the preacher; rather, he was trying to teach them a lesson in living the gospel he preached. He was encouraging them not to have fellowship in the teaching of the gospel perverters among them, but to have fellowship in the teaching of truth. Wuest translates this verse: “Moreover, let the one who is being taught the Word, constantly be holding fellowship with the one who is teaching in all good things.”

“Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the spirit will of the spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (verses 7-9). There is nothing about either congregational action or benevolence here. Verses 7-9 are just as individual in application as will be the judgment. The lesson is that each man is to walk after the spirit and not after the flesh. To do so is to reap everlasting life; to fail to do so is to reap corruption.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (verse 10). This verse does talk about doing good unto saint and sinner. However, this entire passage is as individual in application as will be the judgment. The instruction all the way through these 10 verses is to a man - not to a congregation. Paul used the plural pronouns us and we to include himself along with other Christians, not to include himself along with other congregations. “And let us (individual Christians) not be weary in well doing; for in due season we (individual Christians) shall reap, if we (individual Christians) faint not. As we (individual Christians) have therefore opportunity, let us (individual Christians) do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” It is plain that individual action is under consideration.

Further, the good of verse 10 is good that can be done to all - saint or sinner, rich or poor. There is nothing about physical relief in the entire context, but there is much about spiritual help. I would not be able to render physical assistance (benevolence) to a rich man; but if he will give me the opportunity, I can do the good of this verse unto him, though I be penniless! I can’teach him the gospel that is able to save his soul. Thus, the good of the verse has to do with spiritual things and not with benevolence. “Especially unto them who are of the household of faith” just means that if I have opportunity to help a brother who has been overtaken in a fault and to teach a sinner, my first choice must be toward my brother.

Upon examination we have found that each verse is individual in application and that each verse speaks of spiritual things. There is simply nothing in the passage about congregational action or benevolence. Therefore, if we want to learn what the Bible teaches about congregational action in benevolence, we must go to those passages that speak of the congregation acting in benevolent matters.